In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with close friend and service industry pro Charlotte Mirzoeff. They reminisce about the first restaurant they worked at together, how that prepared them for a career in hospitality, and the importance of a community bar. Tune in to learn more.
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Jake Cornell: I guess I always prefer family style on pretty much everything. So, unless people are really like, “I don’t want to share,” I’m doing family style at almost every restaurant I go to. But it is different if there’s a dietary restriction.
Katie Brown: But if you were going with a vegetarian, would you be vegetarian with them for the night and do that? Or would you rather have your own thing?
J: Yeah. I think I would happily do that unless… Well, because one, if I’m going with a vegetarian, I wouldn’t pick like Keens Steakhouse. You know what I mean? We’d already be going somewhere where I’m more excited about the vegetarian food.
K: Where there are options.
J: If there was something on the menu where I was like, “I need to try this and it isn’t vegetarian,” I would probably be like, “We’re going to share a bunch of stuff. I’m also going to get this and I’ll pay for it.”
J: But then everything else is shared.
K: That’s what I like. If I go to dinner with someone who’s like down to do the vegetarian thing with me, I love to share.
K: Because I like to try a little bit of everything.
J: That’s the joy of it.
K: I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 7, I don’t know if I told you.
J: Right, yeah.
K: Since I was a child. My brother was one of the hungriest children in the entire world. He used to eat… it was like, you sat down to dinner and you felt like you had to eat all your stuff, or else it was going to get taken.
J: Oh, yeah.
K: I felt like, since that age because there was usually one vegetarian option, and it was usually a good thing. Because vegetarian food can just be like mac and cheese as a kid.
K: I was always very protective of my separate meal.
J: No. Siblings will be feral with food.
K: Oh, absolutely.
J: Yeah, my sister was a demon. Wait, OK. We have to talk about Selling Sunset.
K: Yes. Wait, you never, likem introduced anything…
J: Oh my God. I literally — wait. Once again, I forgot. I’m just so used to doing the normal episode interviews where we just go right in, because there’s our intro that I forget that in this I have to do the intro. This is going to be a really crazy episode to listen to. Welcome to another episode of “Going Out with Jake Cornell.” I’m Jake Cornell and the person you’ve already been listening to talk about vegetarian food is my friend and producer, Katie Brown.
K: Hi, guys.
J: OK, wait. You just watched all of “Selling Sunset” for the first time?
K: Yeah, basically I started it and…
J: Be honest, was it because I talk about it so much?
K: You talk about it a lot, and then I was at my friend’s house and they were watching it. I was like, “OK, I can get into this sh*t.”
K: I just finished all of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” like, watched from start to finish and that’s been my project lately.
K: I always needed a background noise kind of show. I’m usually watching one thing that I could actually pay attention to, and another thing that’s just entertaining noise. So, “Selling Sunset” has been that for me. And it is just so f*cking entertaining.
J: It’s so entertaining.
K: So entertaining.
J: I don’t think I could watch it as background noise, because I get sucked in. I just end up like smooth braining and just fully just being like staring.
K: Yeah. I think I have whatever form of ADD that you have when you can’t do only one thing at a time. I have to be on my phone in the shower and watching the show at the same time.
J: No. I guess I am definitely on my phone when I’m watching “Selling Sunset.” That’s fair. I’m definitely on my phone. But Nate will be like, “Are you paying attention?” I’m like, “OK, it’s ‘Selling Sunset.'” Wait, but I did clock something really interesting on “Selling Sunset.” Did I tell you about it?
J: I probably wouldn’t have, because it’s only interesting if you watched the show.
K: OK, tell me.
J: You’re caught up, right?
K: Yeah. I’m caught up now.
J: Wait, let me get my phone so I can show you this.
K: My major thing, and my major takeaway from the show is like, what’s the point of Brett? There’s no point of him.
J: They made him do that fight at the beginning of Season 5. That was so dramatic and based on nothing. And I was like…
K: It felt like the fight over, like who has the better relationship?
J: It was really strange. And I was like, that was the producers being like, you need to bring more to the table. And then I think he did it once and they were like, “Actually no, shut up.”
J: OK. Before I pull up the thing I found that’s really funny to me about one of the “Selling Sunset” women, like you were asking me before we recorded and then we decided to not talk about it.
K: Who do you like?
J: Yeah. Who do you like? OK, wait, do you want me to go first? Or do you want to go first?
K: I don’t know.
J: OK. So, here’s how I feel. It’s like, obviously this show is designed for you to be incredibly Team Chrishell. She is the protagonist of the show. That is what it’s pitched as.
J: And I’m down. I do really enjoy Chrishell. I think she’s fun. I think that because she is the heart of the show and kind of the star, she doesn’t have as many flaws and foibles. She’s not necessarily the most entertaining person on the show by literally any means. But she’s the person who, you care about her relationship, da, da, da, da. She’s interesting in that way, and she’s really likable. I’m down for that. I think that Seasons 1, 2, and 3, Christine was some of the best reality television that’s ever been. Like ever, ever been because it was just that perfect mix of like, she will come in, do the craziest sh*t anyone’s ever done and then show up the next day with a frappuccino and an apology. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. She was just so good at being a reality star that caused a lot of drama and a lot of friction, but then would apologize and was friends and cared.
K: And she’s always wearing the most insane…
J: Everything’s insane. She was sort of authentic about the inauthenticity of it all in the beginning.
J: Season 4, they just leaned too hard into the Christine drama. Season 4 is definitely the worst season of the show, because there are no B plots. There’s no subplots. It’s literally just everyone versus Christine for an entire season, which isn’t exciting or interesting. Do you know what I mean?
K: Yeah. I feel like they all lean too much into her being the villain. Like, she did it, and then the rest of them all did.
J: Yeah. Even by Season 5 I’m like, “I don’t want Christine to leave the show, but I just need them to focus on something else, so that Christine can go back to being a little bit more nuanced, because she’s constantly having to lie, and then answer for the lies. It’s just too much.
K: Yeah, wait. Was Season 4 the season with the Emma drama.
J: Yeah, because Emma and Vanessa got brought in in Season 4.
K: OK. I could not figure that out. Couldn’t they all sit down and talk about a timeline? Like, let’s plot it out on a f*cking timeline, and talk about when relationships ended, and when they started, because I felt like they were just being lazy about it. I felt like they were like, “We need a plot. You guys all dated the same person at different times. Let’s make it drama.”
J: Well, I do think part of it is that, I think Christine is maybe a little bit elusive, in terms of where she shows up and when. So, maybe it was strategically not an opportunity for her, Chrishell and Emma to sit down and talk all that out.
K: Fine. I was like, “Girls. Show the receipts. That’s what I want.” I wanted her to come to the reunion and for them to actually decipher if anyone was in the wrong here.
J: Yeah. I was a huge Christine head, and I still really like Christine. I just think that in the show they focus on her being the villain too much, I will say that.
J: So, there’s that. I used to not love Heather. I used to find Heather to be really negative, and I didn’t like her fights. I thought they were frustrating. But then I really enjoyed Heather in Season 5. I thought Heather really came into her own.
K: She came into her own.
J: When she sits down with Christine, and she’s very direct. It’s clear that Heather, at some point in life, has taken a healthy communication class, because she’s actually really direct very refreshingly, because like you said, sometimes on the shows, when they have these conflicts, it’s frustrating to watch, because you’re like, “You’re not saying anything. No one’s asking a question, no one’s saying anything. It’s just air talk.” And Heather can actually get quite dragged.
K: Yeah, I like that.
J: I think that Davina, here’s the thing about Davina. I just think that she’s such a special precious orchid. She’s so specific. You couldn’t perform her. No actor could do what she’s doing. Her social media is so amazing. My argument about Davina is I think … I think Davina is crucial, vital seasoning. I think it’s like she has these beautiful lines in the middle of things that are like, “What the f*ck?” And also, the cutaways to her reacting to things when people say them, Davina’s face when someone says something is so funny.
K: It’s so funny.
J: And so, I just think she’s really vital to the show. I don’t think they should ever focus a whole plot line on her, because I almost don’t want to see her scrutinized too much, but I love when she comes up in these really weird specific ways. So, I do really enjoy her. I think she was in the first couple of seasons trying to be too drama-stirrey, and just was coming across like truly cruel. I think she learned that, enlightened it, and as the show has gone, she has become much more likable. I really enjoy her. Maya. No Notes. Maya is God tier.
K: I was just going to say my favorite girl is Maya.
J: She left. She’s not on anymore.
K: I know, I’m so sad about it.
J: And I’m happy for her.
K: It’s not like she was bringing that much to the show.
J: But at the same time she was bringing everything.
K: Yes, I loved the fact that she just never knew what the f*ck was going on.
J: No, never cared.
K: I was like, “I relate to that so much. I too never know what the f*ck is going on.”
J: That time when there was a quiet moment in the office and she goes, “The silent of the lamb.” That’s like the funniest sh*t that’s ever happened. You just can’t write it. She was amazing. I love Maya so much.
K: She’s so good.
J: Who else? Mary is fine.
K: She’s such a Mary.
J: Mary is Mary.
J: I’m not mad at Mary. I’m not dying for it, but I do enjoy her on the show. I enjoy them all.
K: Do you think the brothers need to be there, though? What are they really doing? Other than being…
J: I do think, because, have you watched “Selling Tampa”?
J: So, the biggest difference between the “Selling Sunset” situation, and the “Selling Tampa” situation, is that “Selling Tampa,” I think her name is, it’s not Sharone. What’s her name? The woman who owns the brokerage is one of the cast members. The Chrishell of Tampa is the owner, and I don’t enjoy that. I personally don’t enjoy it as much, because she treats her employees in a really f*cked up way, because she’s supposed to be part of the drama and the cast.
J: Not that everything that happens on “Sunset” between the Oppenheims and the girls is totally kosher.
J: But there are a lot of times on “Tampa” where I’m like, “This is f*cked up.” I do love “Tampa,” but I do just think it’s nice when there’s the bosses who are barely in it, but will add a little bit of pressure. Like, “You gotta sell that house.” Or like, “We sold that house.” Or like, “Here is your split.” Or like, “We’re in escrow.” I still don’t know what escrow is.
K: I know. Until I watched a show, I didn’t know being in escrow was a good thing. It sounds painful.
J: I think I thought escrow was foreclosure, and they’re literally opposites. I have a 20 percent concept of what escrow is.
K: I know it’s something good with houses.
J: I think it’s like the conversation with the bank about lumping together your mortgage, and property taxes, and insurances and all that into one payment that is in your escrow payment. So, then when you buy a house it then goes into escrow to figure that out. It’s like basically saying, “We’re officially processing the buying of the house.” And then closing is the day when the house is actually bought. I think it’s what it is. Emma is not my favorite.
K: Yeah. I just feel like, it’s always going to raise a flag to me if there is a white blonde girlie who’s coming in with her empanadas.
J: When Vanessa’s like, “Cheeseburger empanadas.”
K: That’s not an empanada.
J: It’s not an empanada. I love Vanessa. This is the thing I need to talk about that I discovered that I’m obsessed with. Chelsea was the newest cast member on…
K: Yes, yes, yes.
J: She was added in Season 5.
J: She has a British accent that is one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard in my life.
K: A lot of people think it’s fake.
J: I don’t need it to be, because I’m not going to lie. I’ve met people who have weird backgrounds, where they were born in Finland, but they went to an international boarding school in Dublin. They have these accents that they sound really like, what is happening? But it is because not everyone just goes to be in one place.
K: Like Dorit, from “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Dorit’s accent, I could not tell you what it is. She’s Israeli, but her accent sounds very British.
J: And I also think that people don’t really… Accents change a lot faster than you think they do. If you’re somewhere for six months to a year, I think your accent changes.
K: You’re giving all the girlies who went abroad a pass.
J: I’m not saying you can come back from abroad with an accent, but I’m saying, if you move somewhere, a year later, your intonation is probably going to be a little bit different. Moving forward, this is the discovery I made. You’re going to die. Remember when Chelsea was talking about her mother, and she was like… It’s the first time they break away and show Chelsea’s home life. She’s like, “I was raised by a woman who was in corporate America, and she was a boss, and she moved from Nigeria, and she did all this stuff.” And they show this photo of her mother holding her. Do you remember this?
J: Then a few hours later… for the listener, it’s like this photo of a woman holding a baby. And this woman looks like she could be related to Chelsea, absolutely. And the photo is in a photo frame, and then it’s in front of this weird backdrop, and then there’s a filter over it, to make it look like it’s an older photo. Right?
J: I’m looking on Instagram, and I go, I’m sitting next to Nate while we’re watching “Selling Sunset,” and I go, “Wow. Look at this photo of Chelsea before she had plastic surgery.” And Nate goes, “Isn’t that the photo of her mother they just showed?” And then I realize that the photo of her mother is not her mother, it’s a photo of Chelsea from 2019 on her own Instagram, before she had her lips done.
K: That is so FaceTuned, by the way.
J: But it’s her. Isn’t that crazy?
K: What the f*ck? She didn’t even delete it from her Instagram?
J: I never realized how FaceTuned it is.
K: Even the baby’s FaceTuned.
J: Wait. But look how the tree bends towards her head. It’s really jagged. I never clocked that before.
K: Her baby has a smoother face than even a baby could have.
J: I think I’m going to download FaceTune and use it, not for my own photos, but so I can play with it, because I don’t have an eye for FaceTune. My friends will be like, “That’s FaceTuned to high hell.” And I actually don’t clock it. I don’t think I have the eye to catch FaceTune, and I want to. I want to be able to look at something and be like, “I know what you did.”
K: Recently I was wanting to post on Instagram, and I was with a big group of my girlfriends. I feel like a lot of times, friend groups have one person who’s the one who edits people’s Instagram photos for them.
K: They know how to make the lighting look good and all that.
K: I’m not that person. But there was this one photo of me that I wanted to post that’s actually on my Instagram. Go check it out.
J: Go check out Katie. Are you private?
K: No. Basically, my friend was very drunk, and she was like, “There’s a trashcan in the back of this photo. You can’t. It looks so bad. It’s taking up so much of the photo.” And I was like, “Well, I can’t really crop it out, because it’s right behind me.” She was like, “Well, the trashcan I guess is fine, but there is a bag coming out, the trash bag.” And that for some reason was really bothering her. So, she took my phone, and she’s playing around with this photo for so f*cking long. I’m like, “This is going to come out being stunning. It’s going to look like there was never a trash bag there.” And she hands it back to me and it’s blurred, like CGI. I just posted it anyway, because I thought it was really funny. If you look on it there’s just this really f*cked up…
J: So, it looks like there is a dildo, or something hanging out that got blurred out?
K: It’s way worse than it was when it was just a normal trash bag.
J: I know. I had a Zoom meeting recently where, I didn’t know this, but did you know that Zoom has a feature where you can blur your background?
J: The person I had this Zoom meeting with did that, and I was really shocked, because I didn’t know it was a feature. I was like, “Wow. You can blur your background?” And they’re like, “Yeah.” Immediately I was like, “Now, I assume you have the most craven sh*t behind you that I can imagine.”
K: That’s why I don’t do it.
K: Because I feel like it’s weirder to do it than just for you to see my embarrassing poster that I have.
J: Yeah. I understand people have a right to privacy, but people who are really private like that, I’m immediately like, “You are a freak.” Immediately. Even private Instagram, I’m like, “Freak.” Do you know it’s really common? This is a thing that’s really bizarre. On Scruff and Grindr, you can link your Instagrams to it. You can probably do it on Hinge and stuff too.
K: On Hinge I think you can, too.
J: So, it is so common for guys to do that to a private Instagram. And I’m like, literally why?
K: That is something only guys would ever do.
J: It’s crazy to me.
K: Why, though?
J: I’m like, “The only thing I can possibly think, is that you actually think it’s powerful to have a private Instagram, and you want to show that off.” Look, mine’s private. I’m like, “No. You’re a freak.” I think being private is a freak.
K: But it’s also weird, because you’re on a public dating platform that people could see you and your photos if you want.
J: 100 percent.
K: So like, why do you then feel like that’s adding a mystique to you?
J: Yeah, I just don’t understand that.
K: That is very, very weird.
J: When people have private Twitter, I respect it, because I’m like, “You’re talking sh*t.” And we know, I love to talk sh*t. I’m like, “If you have to protect talking sh*t, respect.”
K: Yes. But what could you really be posting on your Instagram that’s…
J: I’m like, “You need to just post the Instagram.”
K: And get a private story like the rest of us.
J: Close friends. You’ve got to get a close friends.
K: Close friends’ story. I feel like that’s the norm now. If you want to post something that’s a little out of left field you just…
J: You close friends it.
K: Yeah. Here’s what I don’t understand, what are you posting that your mom is allowed to see, but some random stranger that you’re meeting on a dating app isn’t?
J: Yeah, I mean it is, you’re like, “I’m so hot that someone’s going to steam my photos.” I just don’t get it.
K: That’s literally never crossed my mind.
J: Well, the thing is, I think it’s just so funny when people are trying to be… I obviously understand that cybersecurity is important, especially for stuff that’s happening politically, where you need encrypting text. I get the importance of that.
J: But when you are engaging with something that is owned by Meta; if you’re engaging with Facebook and Instagram, and then are trying to be private within the confines of that, I’m trying to think of a metaphor for it. If you are a private person, don’t be here. Do you know what I mean?
K: Yeah, don’t be on social media then.
J: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.
K: Yeah, I agree. Their stuff isn’t really private.
J: Yeah. And also, the second you post any of it, Marky Zuck owns it. It’s his now, he can do whatever he wants. Do you know what I mean?
J: It’s just funny when you engage with them that way.
K: I totally agree, especially because on these apps, there are plenty of people sending each other naked photos and sh*t. It’s just funny that people are comfortable doing that and then not having their Instagram made public. Which, speaking of, I was with a group of girls that I went to high school with last night. There’s this one guy that we went to high school with, who has now become famous… Actually, I don’t think I want to say that.
J: OK, but now I need to know.
K: I’m going to tell you later.
K: There’s someone who has now become a personality, a well-known person that went to our high school.
K: They were all talking about how in high school he was creepy and used to send them d*ck pics and I’m sitting there like, “I never got one. Why was I not getting one?”
J: Wait, that’s devastating.
K: Literally it’s this whole group of girls and I was like, “Everyone, except for me.”
J: Literally though, hold on.
K: I guess I’m not good enough. I think you’re going to be really disappointed.
J: Can you just type out who it is?
K: Yeah, hold on.
J: Oh, I literally couldn’t care less.
K: I know.
J: I could have gone my whole life not knowing.
K: OK, then.
J: I’m an asshole.
K: OK, whatever. But anyway, I never got that. So I was a little bummed. It made me not feel great about myself because, I just don’t know.
J: Weird question, did you think you were hot in high school?
K: Did I think I was, or do I think that now looking back?
J: No one should think they were hot in high school looking back because we were kids.
J: I’m saying, I’m not someone who thought I was hot in high school, so for me, to not be treated as hot makes sense. There are times in my life when I’ve been like, “I was objectively hot then.” So, if someone didn’t do this, I would feel… Do you know what I mean?
K: I didn’t even think of it as being hot enough to receive this d*ck pic, but maybe that’s what it was.
J: What else would it be?
K: I don’t know, it seemed like he was just giving them out like they were candy.
J: So you’re like…
K: Was I not relevant? I didn’t think I was hot in high school, but I definitely had a lot of parties. So, I was relevant in that way. I knew who he was, and he knew who I was. So, I’m like, “Damn. OK.”
J: I guess I didn’t make the cut.
K: I didn’t make the cut. You didn’t really want to keep in touch that way. That’s fine, I guess.
J: That sucks. It’s so funny. You literally typed the name, and for one second I thought I knew who it was. And I look now and I’m like, “No. I literally will never think about this person again.” That’s so funny. That’s really funny. Moving on. We have a great episode for you. This is a real industry nerd episode. Our guest is someone I have known since I moved to New York City. We worked together in my very first restaurant job. And then worked together at Kindred, where she’s was the GM. We worked all through the pandemic together. And outside of restaurants, she’s one of my dearest and closest friends, and I love her so much. This episode is just a really great conversation about working in the industry, what we think about the industry, what we think about it changing. It’s a really good one. So, please enjoy me going out with Charlotte Mirzoeff.
Charlotte Mirzoeff: Hi. I literally just finished listening to your first episode.
J: Did you like it?
C: Like 20 seconds ago. So good, so great.
J: Thank you. I’m so excited to have your episode now.
C: I know, very excited.
J: To give the listener a little bit of context, I probably worked with you more in restaurants than maybe anyone in my life. I would consider you my service industry sister at this point.
C: Also like war vets.
J: Oh, yeah, war vets for sure. So Charlotte and I worked at a restaurant together, my first restaurant job in New York. And that was a harrowing experience in its own way. That’s where Charlotte and I got to know each other. I worked there for eight months. Charlotte put in a good, what, four years there?
C: Three years in that restaurant. But five years, I think, in that company.
J: Damn. And then we stayed friends.
C: Against all odds?
J: Against all odds we stayed friends. And then I guess that would have been two or three years ago that I ended up back at Kindred.
C: We opened Kindred in October 2019. But I think you were there a little bit before to help open the restaurant. So basically October 2018.
J: Yeah. I had been working at a place called Rosemary’s for like four years, and then Charlotte grabbed me and helped open the restaurant I worked at before I left the restaurant industry called Kindred. And Kindred was the best restaurant job I ever had. There’s no question, that restaurant is so special to me. It is one of my favorite places in the city. I think you probably feel similarly. Charlotte and I were the two that worked there through the entire pandemic. We closed in March and then we reopened in May and then we hit the ground running. Don’t worry, this episode is not going to be just rehashing the Covid years of restaurants. That’s not what this is. But that is part of why Charlotte and I are very, very close. And I wanted to have you on the show because I thought it would just be fun to talk about our time in the restaurant industry, what we’ve learned, what got you into it, how you got to where you are. And similarly, with me, because you were there for so much of my time in the New York restaurant industry. In a lot of these episodes we tend to talk a lot about general experiences. But you and I have so much experience together and I thought this would be more like a fun deep dive.
J: So if I remember correctly, we know you’re from Delco. You’re from the Philly area. When you moved to New York, you moved to New York to work in the nonprofit sector.
J: You didn’t come to New York to do restaurants.
C: Honestly, I thought I was going to be in academia and nonprofits. I went to college for human development and family studies, and I wanted to continue that education and get a Ph.D. because I was working with a professor that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed her work and her research. But her advice was to get to work in the workforce for a little while and you’ll be a better Ph.D. candidate and also just like a better human. Get out there and discover the world. So I moved to New York a couple of months after graduating and got a job in a nonprofit that helped house the homeless. Oh my God, I’m doing such great things for the world. Even if I only get paid $30,000 a year, I’ll just figure it out.
J: In NYC.
C: Turns out that that’s not a really great salary in NYC, or anywhere, honestly. It was grunt work. It was an entry- level nonprofit and it was just like, do all the stuff that nobody else wants to do.
J: And had you done any restaurant work prior to that, like in high school or in college?
C: Yeah, totally. In high school, I worked at a deli called Sleepy Hollow Delly, which has the best cheesesteaks in Delco, just saying. And so that was all of high school. Before that, my best friend’s mom ran the snack bar at the pool at the country club. I worked at the snack bar and fried mozzarella sticks and probably gained 30 pounds that summer. My parents’ best friends, who I call aunt and uncle, my Uncle Rocky had a diner in South Philly and I was the dishwasher there for a while.
J: And back then did you love restaurant work like you do now? Another thing I want to say, of all the people I know in the restaurant industry, you are one of the most talented people at it. In terms of dealing with guests, designing cocktails, running a restaurant. At this point, Charlotte is now the GM of Kindred, so she’s done it all. She’s running the show and she’s incredible. I don’t know anyone who f*cking loves it like you do. There are so many people in the restaurant history that are bitter, because it’s f*cking rough. It is a hustle and it’s rough and also, frankly, a lot of people end up there unintentionally.
C: Or as a money-maker thing.
J: Exactly. You are one of the few people I know who is there because it’s your dream, your love, your passion. And that is what’s so special to me. I want us to be celebrating people like you because you are what make the industry thrive. Whenever you go to one of those really special places that has a little magic to it, it’s not because they’re some genius corporation behind it. It’s because there’s someone like you behind it or a team of someones like you.
C: You’re going to make me cry, that’s very sweet. Thank you.
J: It’s true, though. We haven’t really talked about it. I’m just curious when and where that developed for you. Did you know that from the jump?
C: I don’t think I consciously knew that from the jump. So I was 15 when I was a dishwasher at my uncle’s diner. And I specifically remember loving this community that was happening. South Philly is very Italian and everybody knows everybody. It’s different now. I’m not going to give my age away, but this was a long time ago.
J: Charlotte’s not that old, for the listener.
C: There were a few guys, a few old Italian neighborhood guys that would come in right when we opened at like 6 a.m. and have a coffee. And then they would go and do whatever they did, and then they would come back at 9 a.m. and have breakfast and another coffee. And then they would go and do whatever they did, and then they would come back at noon and have lunch and another coffee. They all knew each other — none of them sat together — but they all knew each other. They all said hello to each other. Oh my God, regulars. That’s super cool. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody kind of takes care of everyone and there’s this community thing going on. My uncle bought this diner because it was his favorite place to go. He owned a heating and air conditioning business — this sounds very “mob,” it’s not. He really did own the heating and air conditioning business around the corner and the Cobra Steakhouse, which is what the diner is. It’s not there anymore, but it was a diner that they call the Cobra Steakhouse. I don’t know why. It was owned by a family, and it was struggling. It was maybe going to close. And so my uncle bought it and was helping them stay afloat. This family that owned it, the daughters, were the waitresses. One of them was the cook. And then the mom, Cass was a waitress, but would maybe have one table a day. And the rest of the day she sat in the back booth and chain smoked cigarettes and read the newspaper. She has big, bright red hair. And I was just like, “This lady is it.” She is living her best life; daughters, you go run the restaurant. And these daughters were in their 30s. They weren’t young girls. This was their lives. You go run the restaurant, I’m going to sit back here and I’ll only talk to the people that I like and want to talk to. It was just that kind of community, I f*cking love this. I looked forward to every Saturday, even though I’d wake up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday as a teenager and go into this diner. And I loved it.
J: And you were the dishwasher.
C: I was the dishwasher. Literally, the dishwasher was behind where Cass would sit and smoke cigarettes. I was getting f*cking smoked out while I was washing dishes.
J: Bleach and Marlboros.
C: It was wild. But yeah, I loved that. And then working at Sleepy Hollow Deli, there was also a sense of community. We had our regulars. It was basically a bunch of teenagers that worked there after school and on the weekends. And then there was this old lady, Bessie, who still works there. I’m like, How the f*ck older you now? I can’t believe you still work at this deli.” But cool.
J: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. This has nothing to do with restaurants, but when you’re like 15, someone who’s 55, and if they have gray hair, I’m like, “Oh, that’s an old man.” When you’re in your 30s or your late 20s or whatever, they’re in their 80s and you’re like, “Oh no, now they’re old.” They were really kind of hot when I was younger.
C: I’m pretty sure she was in her 70s when I was working there.
J: Oh, no. So she’s really playing hardball.
C: She’s old.
J: OK, God bless. Is she still working?
C: She’s still working. She’s Greek. Every time I go in she’s like, “Oh, Charlie, how are you?” She’s like, “Have you lost weight?” In the last 15 years, maybe. I don’t know. That’s the last time I saw you. But yes, that was funny. I remember our boss was a lot of a person. She was a very kind person. But at any given moment, she was maybe on Adderall, maybe on Xanax, you don’t know. She would let us buy cigarettes. We definitely stole beer from the fridge as teenagers and she knew it was happening but probably looked the other way. Anyway, it was an insane place. And that was the place where I was like, “Oh, my coworkers are my family.”
C: This is a little family. We would go out with each other, which was weird in high school, right? Because you just have your high school friends.
J: I could imagine high school girls being pissed like, “Yeah, apparently Charlotte has deli friends now.”
C: We would go out after work and we would all smell like the deli, too. No one else wanted to hang out with us because we smelled like deli. We were gross.
J: That was David and I. My best friend and I worked at Ben & Jerry’s, and we leave smelling like rotten f*cking milk. The Ben & Jerry’s smell, I can recall it instantaneously.
C: Whenever I walk into Sleepy Hollow now I’m like, “Oh, God, this is triggering.”
J: Which is such a gift, especially when you’re that young, to just have a moment to kind of sit and be like, “Wait, what the f*ck do I want to do?” I need to go outside right now and make $1,000.
C: I remember in that first year living in New York, my two roommates, Mallory and Brit, who I call my New York moms. They both had lived in New York for several years at that point. And I met a lot of my friends, my best friends, through them. And Brit is actually also from Delco, so she’s like a sister to me. But Mallory was working and she’s a fashion designer and she was working in bars and restaurants. And her best friend, became one of my best friends — Ashton Warren, shout out, she makes delicious cookies. You’ve had them.
J: One of the best bakers and one of the best burlesque dancers in the city, honestly. And what a combo that.
C: 100 percent. She’s a very talented lady. Anyway, she was working at a restaurant called Marc Forgione. She was the pastry chef there, and she’s like, “I think we need a hostess. Why don’t you come work here until you figure it out?” I started working there and I was like, “Oh, this is what I want to do.” It was also fun because I was going out with my new friends every night. It was exciting. But also, again, I didn’t have other friends in New York at this point that I had just made. You know what I mean? My friends in New York at this point were my roommate’s friends. And so now I had this group of friends that were mine. I was working in a really fancy Michelin-star restaurant in Tribeca. I remember when I left that restaurant, I actually sat down with Marc and had an exit interview and I was like, “I’m leaving because I want to move up and on. There’s not that opportunity for me here. But just so you know, this restaurant changed what I wanted to do with my life and thank you for that.” That was definitely the pivotal restaurant for me. And it’s definitely the restaurant where people are like, “What was the craziest restaurant you ever worked in?” The one where you guys went out all the time and it was nutso, like what people think working in restaurants is and TV, that was it. The group that I worked with there, we were just buddies and we went out all the time and we had after parties in the restaurant. Crazy sh*t.
J: That’s wild. The restaurant that you and I met at puts up a pretty good fight for that title. We were definitely going wild.
C: Yes. The one we worked out together was corporate, there were a lot of rules. Forge was the only restaurant he had at the moment. And it was fairly new, it was a few years old and it was just a bunch of young, passionate gunners, people going after what they wanted.
J: It sounds like he did a really good job hiring for that restaurant.
C: I think he did. I haven’t worked there in 11 years, but it was like a little family and a little community. Also, it reminded me of the whole “Do you live to work or work to live?” It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can absolutely love where you are and what you’re doing and there are going to be hard days, but we’re going to make this important to every single person here. Do you know what I mean?
J: Work doesn’t have to be suffering to be work. You can be passionate about it and you can enjoy it.
C: And if you all care about each other, it makes it that much better.
J: Totally. It’s so interesting because I feel like you and I had sort of almost the opposite experience. I was working in restaurants similar to your deli. When I was back in Vermont, I was working in places that were really small, super community-driven among the staff. Especially that thing of, the people that work at this restaurant are a family. This is who my social circle is. We are connected to this thing in a way that no one else is. It’s very intense and very fun and very exciting and very loving. And I’m still incredibly close to the people from Elgato, which was the restaurant I worked at in Burlington. We’re still all super close. When I moved to New York and saw how big the industry was, I think maybe because where you and I met was so corporate, I was like, “Oh, this is too big to have that.” I lost sense of that thing of family and intimacy and felt like I was part of this huge machine, especially where we worked, which was just such a hard restaurant to work at.
C: You almost had to earn your keep at that restaurant, you know what I mean? At other restaurants I worked at, you started working and you’re in. You’re part of us now. And at that restaurant, it was like, “You’re not in until we’ve decided that you’re good enough.”
J: That’s an important thing to talk about, what kind of culture do you create at a restaurant that you’re running? As a manager, as an owner, what is the environment that you want your restaurant to thrive within? And I think the restaurant that you and I met at that we’re deliberately not naming for a reason, guys — mostly it’s because the owner of it has enough money that he can order hits on Charlotte and us and get away with it. It’s those restaurants and the restaurants that it really looked up to, like the EMP’s, Del Posto’s, and Per Se’s. I’m doing a bit of guesstimation of what it’s like to work at those places because I’ve never worked in those places. I do know some people have worked at some of them. But it was this idea of, yeah, you’re in or you’re out and there’s almost a cool girl thing about it. But the way that this restaurant asserts its value is by being super f*cking cutthroat and super f*cking intense and demanding. Everyone’s on the chopping block and any day you could get cut down. I think they think it creates a product, that the guest can then come in and be like, “I’m getting the best of the best because they fired the people who aren’t the best of the best.” Or the people who weren’t the best of the best quit because they couldn’t handle it.
J: Maybe that’s like 20 percent effective because what it really does, in my opinion, is it creates a space where I don’t feel safe or empowered to do my job. You’re constantly on the defensive, trying not to get fired, trying to stay. It was coming from all sides, front-of-house management, back-of-house management. The culture was so endemic. And it’s also the No. 1 restaurant I worked at in terms that almost kind of celebrated the culture of chef abuse. Which is a whole other thing that I’ve never gotten into on this podcast. Does that still exist in New York anymore? Do you hear about people working in restaurants where chefs are like that? OK, you’re looking at me like I’m a crazy person.
C: It definitely exists. It’s abusive, right? They convince people that that’s just how it is. And you don’t talk about it. You don’t complain about them.
J: Whenever I look back on that restaurant, why did I stay there that long? Did you know that I quit that restaurant my second week?
C: I did not know that.
J: I quit my second week. I pulled one of the managers aside and I was like, “I’m leaving. I can’t do this.” And I walked out of the restaurant and the GM texted me and was like, “Can you please come back?” They emailed me and they were like, “Can you please come back and have a meeting and we’ll talk about your position here?” And I was like, “OK.” So I came back and it was during the lineup. I quit after a breakfast-lunch shift. I remember that I was walking up Park Avenue and I got an email and I came back and I sat with her in the dining room while everyone else was at lineup for dinner. She was like, “You can’t just do training and then work for a week and then quit. That’s not how it works.” And I was like, “OK, I can’t do this, though.” I had gone from working in really fun spaces to, I think my first two weeks in that restaurant, I did 65 hours each week. They were so understaffed and it was so crazy.
C: It was always like that.
J: I don’t think I said this at the time, but part of me was like, “I thought you guys wanted me to quit.” I thought I was bad. You guys are making you feel so sh*tty that it was like, “Oh, I’m probably doing this restaurant a service by getting out of the mix because.” Every single breath I breathe is faced the wrong way in the restaurant. It was just crazy. And I actually think that kind of led to me being a little bit more successful at that restaurant, because I asserted myself. I’ll leave. I had a set of demands. I will get promoted within like this set of time. There very much were clear demands that were that I laid out in order to stay. And I think that really helped me. But I look back now and I don’t regret anything because I’m happy where I am in life. And I did learn a lot from those experiences. But if I were to see someone else in that position now working in that restaurant and being treated the way we were being treated, I would’ve been like, “Quit in week two. Don’t go back.” They do convince you, not that this is how every restaurant in New York is, but this is how every good restaurant in New York is.
C: You’re not going to make it if you can’t handle it. That mentality did a couple of bad things, but it did two things that really stand out to me and formed the way that I now run my programs and my restaurants. One, it gives the guest the opportunity to do whatever the f*ck they want and walk all over people. And that’s just not how it is. You’re coming to my restaurant and relying on me, the expert, to give you an experience. So don’t come in here and order grilled cheese. It teaches people that they can do whatever they want and it’s just not OK. It is an experience. You’re a diner and I’m telling you what it is.
J: When people come into this restaurant, treat them like you’re in their house. And sometimes I wanted to be like, if a person behaved this way in my house, I’ll tell them to get the f*ck out.
C: Yeah, get out.
J: I don’t know what you want me to.
C: There were times when we had that crazy waitlist at the bar. We had to keep our own waitlists at the bar, which was nutso.
J: This was one of the hottest bars in New York at the time, honestly, especially for that neighborhood. People are waiting two hours to then sit at a bar, which is deranged.
C: I remember someone called me a b*tch once because I was like, “You’re literally the eighth person on the list. I see that you want to sit, but there’s nothing I can do. I will let you know when your time is.” And they called me a b*tch and I was like, “You can leave.” You know what? Your name’s crossed off the list. Time to go. You should go. And they’re like, “Let me speak to your manager.” So I got a manager and the first manager that came over apologizes to this person. Another manager got involved and swiftly exited the person from the restaurant, which was the right move. Again, it teaches people that they can get walked all over. So that leads me to the other thing that I think restaurants like that do as a disservice to our whole industry. You’re making people feel like everything they do is not good enough and their opinions don’t matter. Because magically, the person who got hired as a manager is some sort of god who knows the answer. No, like we’re all in this together. Maybe the person who got promoted to be a manager excels at something else that got them to that position. But it doesn’t mean the person that’s a bartender or a back server or a bar back or whatever, a dishwasher, is an idiot or an asshole. Everyone has a skill set and everyone should be given multiple opportunities to do their job well. That’s how the whole industry becomes better and thrives. Yeah, it is annoying when you’ve told someone three times to do this thing and they still are not doing it right. But it’s like that thing in school where not everybody learns the same way. When you give someone a training packet and they have to check all these boxes off on a training packet, it doesn’t mean they’re going to retain that information. You have to be patient and you have to allow people to make mistakes and allow people to ask questions and allow people to not know stuff because that’s how we all learn. And I think in environments like that, you don’t know or you’re not doing that right or blah, blah, blah, whatever. The lame jokes about wine or whatever that we were all like, “What are you talking about?” You feel bad about yourself.
J: What I get upset about, also, when I look back on that time is that it creates this thing where everyone is so miserable and stressed that they become the bad guy. I look back at some of the time and I don’t think I ever did anything egregious there. But some of the people that I would get really frustrated with, I’m like, “This person f*cking sucks at their job.” I probably did not show them the patience that I needed to show them, but it’s because that job was so hard that we were also constantly pushed up against the rails. If someone was f*cking it up, it really put your neck on the block in this way that was so stressful that then I was like, “I f*cking hate Charlotte.” And it’s crazy now to go back and I can see how that trickled down. When I started, people were treating me that way and then I started to treat people that way. I think that was one of the many reasons why I was like, “I gotta get out because I’m becoming these people I f*cking hated.” It’s crazy now, we’re like eight years out from that time. I’ll run into people from that time and they don’t work there anymore. I don’t work there anymore. And they’re kind and nice and excited and I’m like, “Wow, I have to unlearn the fact that I f*cking hated you. You were a different person.” We’ve talked about this, people that you are friends with or I am friends with. I can respect that you are friends with them, but I need you to know that back in the day I f*cking hated them and they treated me in a really f*cked way. We all have to acknowledge that. OK, they are responsible for that. But also it was a product of this environment that we were all in. So now I’m re-learning. We even have had these conversations before. It’s like, “Oh, I have to relearn how I actually feel about this person now that we don’t work in this environment that was creating this.” I actually do like this guy. I know some people who say, “Unfortunately, the way my brain works and the way my emotions work, I’ll never like them. I’m too angry at them for the rest of my life.” I’m like, “Cool.” And I respect that. That’s how that goes. And I hope no one feels that way about me. I don’t think I ever got that bad, but I’m sure you feel the same way. It makes you not the best version of yourself, which is so wildly the opposite of what you would want a job to be. Especially restaurant work, which is about taking care of people.
J: It should have been so wildly the opposite.
C: Yes. And the premise of that restaurant, too, was to take care of each other. But wait? I worked 70 hours this week. You’re not doing your best work when you’re doing brunch into dinner into brunch into dinner. That was normal. It was Friday night into Saturday morning, Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night. How am I alive?
J: I’m not joking, if I could go back to that period of time I would, one, tell me, “Hey, you should just quit this restaurant.” Or you could go to The New Yorker and give them a great article, because that sh*t was f*cking crazy. First off, I don’t think the bathroom access was legal.
C: It was a mile away.
J: The bathrooms were insane. The food access was insane. They sometimes would make people work breakfast, lunch and dinner, which is working from 6 a.m. to midnight.
J: With cumulatively one hour off time. It was so f*cking crazy. I think with the conversation over the past few years, I’ve felt empowered. When I was a restaurant worker, a lot of the conversations empowered me to be like, “Oh yeah, we can stand up for ourselves and we can demand a good working environment and realistic existences.” And that ultimately is a service of the guest because it’s human. It’s funny because in the entertainment industry, talent is this branch of people that get treated in a certain way. I mean there are literally union contracts to make sure that the talent gets enough rest. It’s because there’s a commodity to their skill sets, as a person. Their personalities and their souls, for lack of a better term, are part of the product. That is the same f*cking thing for any front-of-house person. And that’s not to say that the back of the house doesn’t deserve it as well, because they absolutely do. But I’m just saying, in terms of the product you’re putting out, the capacity of your front-of-house staff is so wildly important to that.
C: Yeah ,yeah. Yeah. There were definitely these regulars that were really horrible people and I was just like, “I’m not going to put up with this.” I’m not going to, not going to do this. So I would just not take care of them or like to have somebody else take care of them. There was one day, I think it was a New Year’s Day, and I had to take care of them and they were just so rude to me. I had been working there for three years and they were like, “Are you new?” And I was like, “No.” I just avoided you all the time. Everyone would just lick their buttholes. I don’t understand why.
J: I know. They also spent, what, $30. They never spent money.
C: Yeah. She would send her croissant back three times because it wasn’t warm enough. And I was like, “I’m going to throw this f*cking croissant in your face.” She needed the milk on the side for her cappuccino because she was the only one who knew how to make it. Oh, my God. It was New Year’s Day and I had closed New Year’s Eve, and I was like, “I’m not doing it.” I snapped. And again, I’m not saying that we should have taken care of those people because they were horrible. But it’s that thing where I’m a hospitality professional. In my job now, I come across people that are frustrating. We always will.
J: Oh yeah, there’s no way around it.
C: The way that I can handle it now is with grace. I’m not going to put up with misbehavior or rudeness or abuse, but I can handle it with grace and I can compromise and give people what they need and what they want, while also taking care of my staff and myself and my restaurant. But when you are working that much and you’re so thinly stretched and no one works here, so you have to work as a Clopin and you’re the only one working, I can’t deal with people like that. It’s over. And so I snapped at those people and it was bad.
J: I would say it’s not your fault. If this job is withholding you from sleep and rest, yeah, that’s going to happen. And I do think that ultimately falls on management. Sure, it’s your actions, but at some point, you have been pushed to the brink.
C: And fed on overcooked rice and undercooked chicken for six days in a row and definitely had salmonella poisoning.
J: To move it into a more positive thing, because I think we’ve ragged on this restaurant enough, we had some good f*cking nights.
C: And again, my core group of friends in NYC are friends from that restaurant.
J: Yeah, you’re one of my friends.
C: Those are my people. We always joke that we were war vets. We went through it together. And here’s the thing: I don’t know if it’s the right place, right time, and they just hired a bunch of dope people that happened to really click and get along. Or if it’s that we went through something at the same time together that will forever bond us. It’s probably a little bit of both.
J: This isn’t necessarily a good quality because I do envy people that would show up and after one day be like, “Absolutely not,” and walk out. That happens every week. I always looked down on them because they couldn’t handle it. Because I feel like we’re the type of people, and especially the younger version of ourselves, I think we learned from this experience that when we get presented with something like that that’s insanely challenging and a set up to fail, I will conquer it. It’s a challenge. And I think we all kind of felt that.
C: Totally. Even going out was a challenge that we had to conquer, right? I feel like nowadays it’s like, “Oh, it’s this person’s last night at the restaurant, we’re going to grab beers after work.” If it was somebody’s last night at that restaurant, I am going to be so hung over tomorrow and we are going to stay up till 6 a.m. It was a whole thing. I don’t know whose last night it was, and I don’t know if I should say the bar that we were at because it might give away the restaurant, but we were at the bar on the corner and Sean and Mac were singing some Bruce Springsteen song. And they moved all the tables and chairs in the bar out of the way.
J: It was Mcmanus’s last night, wasn’t it?
C: They knee slid at the part where Bruce does it in the video. What is happening here? This is the most epic sh*t. And it was just one of the server’s last night. It wasn’t even a big deal. We went hard.
J: Let’s transition into talking about going out because that is what we’re here to talk about outside of the restaurant. We went out together last night. You like to go out. Walk me through how you like to go out.
C: I guess there are different iterations of going out. I live in East Williamsburg and it’s a cute little nook between Williamsburg and Bushwick. It feels a little more like a humble neighborhood. It’s not fancy like Williamsburg and not so cool and artsy like Bushwick. It’s somewhere in the middle, and there’s a lot of great restaurants and bars within walking distance of my neighborhood that I really love going out to. Honestly, every Monday night I go to Basic. It’s on Graham Avenue in East Williamsburg. It’s my favorite bar of all time. Shout out to Jay, our friend Jay owns it, and he bartends every Monday. And so we call it Monjay, it’s very funny. We were there last night. It’s a very neighborhood vibe/industry vibe. I could go by myself and sit there and throughout the night, see 10 friends, which is exactly what happened last night. And although I went with you and didn’t go by myself. But there are lots of restaurants in the neighborhood, too. Sometimes we’ll go grab dinner at Ammazzacaffé and then walk over to Basic and have our Monday. So that’s one version. That’s one of my favorite things to do is just stay in the neighborhood and pop around to different bars and restaurants. In such a large city like NYC, that is so important to me because it’s a sense of community.
J: It’s grounding.
C: It’s very grounding. But as someone who really loves being in restaurants for work, I also really just love being in restaurants, not for work. To have that experience from the other side is super important to me. One, because I love it. I’m a tourist. So I really love flavors and I really love sensual things. I love going out to eat. I love either trying new wine or ordering the bottle of wine that I know is going to be so dope. I love trying new cocktails and all that kind of stuff. It excites me. I always say, I feel like I’m boring because someone’s like, “So what do you do in your free time?” And I’m like, “Exactly what I do in my not free time, be in restaurants.” So going out is honestly like putting on a cute outfit, doing my hair, makeup, lipstick, the whole nine yards and going out to either a really fun restaurant that I know is going to be dope or the new restaurant that’s hot that just opened. Or a restaurant that my friend works at and I’m going to visit them and sit at their bar, whatever it is. But that’s going out for me. I’m in my 30s now, I’m not going out to go dancing or sh*t like that. It’s going out to dinner with friends and then grabbing a nightcap afterwards. i
J: One of my favorite things about going out with you, especially when we go out to dinner, is it’s a reciprocity among industry people. When you’re working in a restaurant five or six days a week and then you get to go to another restaurant that your friend has started working at or your friend started managing or your friend just opened, part of the joy of it is when you get to feel special. Because you’re on the VIP list in a certain way, you know what I mean? But then also, you get to receive what you’ve been giving all week. You get to be the one sitting in the booth and have someone see you and surprise you and treat you and really take care of you. It’s so gratifying because you’ve been giving it all week.
C: 100 percent. That’s a big perk of our industry. I don’t make a million dollars a year. When someone who is in the industry comes into my bar, I make sure it’s valuable. I make sure that they are receiving something that is worth what they’re paying for. I’m not going to comp your check because that puts this at a zero value. I don’t remember who I heard that from, maybe some cocktail conference once. Somebody doesn’t comp checks because that makes this worth nothing. I will hook you up and I will make this a worthy experience for you, but it’s not free because then it devalues the experience you just had. I want someone to come in and have a really valuable experience and really love what they’re getting. And also with the understanding that, you work in a restaurant and part of the perk of working in a restaurant is that you get taken care of in a different way by other restaurant people when you go into their restaurant. Because we’re all in the know, we all know what’s going on behind the scenes. We know what it feels like. We know what’s happening when someone’s going above and beyond for us.
J: I think it’s so gratifying to take care of other industry people because, one, no one’s going to appreciate it more. Do you know what I mean?
C: 100 percent.
J: When you hook up with someone who doesn’t work in the restaurant industry, they don’t necessarily understand the value of what they’re getting. Oh, the chef made you something off the menu and it’s a busy Saturday night. That’s a huge f*cking deal. Someone else would be like, “Oh, that’s cute.” But if you work in a restaurant, you know that, “Wait, this is crazy that they did this thing. It was really special.” And so it’s gratifying to give that. You want to give someone a gift they’re going to enjoy and no one’s gonna enjoy it more than a restaurant worker. And then also, there is a social agreement that there is going to be compensation, that you’re going to tip a little bit differently. There’s an agreement there and an understanding that, I think, is so powerful.
C: Totally. And I think that’s really beautiful. I’m at this point in my career and life, and I think probably you are, too, or at least getting there, or you’re not in restaurants anymore. It used to be like, “Oh my friend, bartends so-and-so, let’s go.” And now it’s like, “My friend opened their own restaurant and they own it and they’re running it and I actually can’t see them unless I go to their restaurant.” That is this crazy point that we’re at in our lives and our careers where I’m like, “Damn, my friends own stuff that’s so cool.” And I get to go and sit and kind of peek into their brain a little bit. When you’re in someone’s restaurant that they own and they put their heart and soul into, you’re like, “Damn, this is cool. This is my friend’s dream.” You get to experience that. When someone opens their own restaurant, it’s obviously expensive. I don’t expect free stuff. I don’t expect anything when that happens.
J: Like a fresh opening, absolutely not.
C: You know what I mean? Absolutely not. But if it’s a small restaurant that one of my friends owns, I’m like, “I am here to support you and to help and support your dream.” That is just a beautiful thing to experience.
J: 100 percent. Something that’s become an unexpected theme of the podcast has been advocating for small- business restaurants. I didn’t really consciously think about that before I started doing this, but every time these conversations come up. I didn’t expect to become this advocate for the small-business restaurant. And I’m not anti the corporate restaurants in any way. The giant corporations are different. But with the big restaurant groups in New York, some of them have amazing restaurants that I love to go to. I’m not going to deny it. But when a group of people band together and get an investor to open a restaurant that they’re excited about, the concept is coming from their heart and soul and not from a strategy team that was like looking at social media for two months and was like, “What’s going to be the hot thing.” And then they open some weird-ass pilgrim-themed restaurant. Because they think that’s gonna be the next hot thing, and you can sense that genuinely. When someone has been dreaming of opening their own restaurant, and then you get there and you’re like, “Why the f*ck is like this weird thing happening,” someone will be like, “Oh, it’s because their mom was from this country and did this.” And you’re like, “Oh, I love that.” There’s always heart and soul behind every single thing. Even fu*king Rosemary’s where I worked. Rosemary’s is a huge West Village restaurant and it’s part of a corporate group. But the owner of that restaurant hired his cousin to design the restaurant to look like their grandma’s house. Even though it is this big restaurant that is massively popular and now there are multiple locations, I think part of what worked there was that it did start from a seed of a heart and a home.
C: And I think there is an opportunity for heart and soul in those big corporate restaurants. A very good friend of mine is an executive chef in the restaurant group that we just talked about. The things she tells me that she does for her sous chefs and her staff, I’m like, “You’re amazing.”
J: A lot of the restaurants in that group seem great to work for. It’s just our restaurant.
C: She takes care of people. And that is her priority. There are benefits to working in a big group like that. Literal benefits, like your health insurance is paid for and PTO and structure. I get it. I get why someone wants to work in an environment like that. And especially if you are the executive chef and the boss, you can say, “This is important to me and also I’m going to make this a positive place to work. I’m going to make this good.”
J: She’s the first female executive chef of a very, very, very iconic New York restaurant. There is value in that. And it’s cool to say you got to work at those restaurants and see how those restaurants work. They’re New York institutions, like that’s f*cking cool.
C: That’s the positive spin on what we went through in those restaurants, right? Yeah, there were a lot of sh*tty things. But for better or for worse, it made us really good at anything. You could just start throwing eggs at me while I’m serving a table or shaking drinks at a bar and serving someone a four-course dinner with a $400 bottle dollar bottle of Barolo, and I would dodge every egg and give perfect service to make the perfect cocktail. You know what I mean? I decanted that bottle perfectly with zero sediment. It took us to the next level. Something that I always talk about at Kindred is, we try our best to hire people who we want to be around. But also people who can learn the logistics of this specific restaurant, but really just know what they’re doing. Because we all are industry vets, right? With the team at Kindred and Ruffian, we’ve all worked in restaurants for a really long time. And the reason we want to work in small restaurants, like Kindred and Ruffian, is because we were part of other big groups and we were able to find success in those restaurants. But there were things about it that we really didn’t jive with, and so we were able to pick out the things that we know are important and that are correct and valuable in our restaurant, but also add the things that we think as human beings are valuable. But we can’t do that if we don’t know how to do it basically. You can only do that if you have learned the basics and been put through the wringer. And you’re like, “Cool, did that. Now I’m going to do it my way.”
J: You’re bringing up a good point. Those giant restaurants that have 10 servers a night and eight back servers, they have the space to train someone who’s completely raw and who doesn’t know what they’re doing. And it’s going to be hard and they’re going get thrown in the f*cking trenches. But frankly, at a place like Kindred where there are two servers on the floor max, and they’re doing everything because they can and because they’re f*cking dope, they don’t really have the time to train someone who doesn’t know the basics. I haven’t really ever thought about that before, but there is huge value in that.
C: Big restaurants can hire 60 to 150 people. I have, like, less than 10 staff members right now. For lack of a better term, they’re like hospitality factories. They pump people through them and then they spit them out into the rest of the world. How many people do we know that all work in this one restaurant, but they all worked in another restaurant group together before?
J: No, it’s so true. We’re from one restaurant group, like a family. They’re kind of like dynasties. It’s almost like everyone went to a different college. It’s these different massive restaurant groups in New York and almost every industry that has done one of them because you kind of do have to. And there are the few people who have found their way to a smaller restaurant and did work up almost in the indie scene. It’s like liberal arts versus those Big 10 schools, almost.
C: Oh, my God, totally.
J: I’ve never thought about it that way, but that is so f*cking true.
J: Someone who’s worked in those smaller places, they’re amazing and they’re probably really good at creative service and really intimate service. But then if things get really crazy, there’s not that technical thing where I’m like, “Oh, at the end of the day, I can carry five plates.”
C: Like Shannon, for example, she worked in small little Brooklyn and Manhattan restaurants her whole career, and she got criticized a little bit for being messy or unorganized or something like that. OK, but the woman can figure out how to fit a 15-item brunch menu into a tiny little fridge because we don’t have a walk-in. She never had the luxury of a prep team. She never had the luxury of a giant walk-in. She knows how to work in those environments.
J: That’s so true.
C: You know what I mean? I always thought that was a huge value. Going back to going out, there is something so awesome about going into some of those bigger restaurants and being treated like a VIP. In any restaurant, it feels good. But when you go into the restaurant that we were talking about before and people around you are like, “What? Why is this chef going out and talking to this person?” Hair flip.
J: It is a f*cking sexy feeling when you know that a ticket got printed out with your name on it and your preferences. That’s hot.
J: I could talk to you for hours and I probably will talk to you within the next few days because we are very close friends, but we are coming to the end of this conversation. And I’m curious, as maybe one of the most seasoned service vets we’ve had on the podcast, for the listeners who don’t work in restaurants but love restaurants, what’s your No. 1 piece of advice or even plea to be like, “Please learn this or please stop doing this or please do this.” What’s top of your list?
C: Well, if I’m being funny, yes, we have a bathroom and it’s in the back to the right. Please stop asking me. But honestly, going back to what I said before, your servers, your bartenders, your managers, everybody that works in the restaurant is an expert at what they’re doing and serving. So trust them.
C: Just trust them. And it’s OK if you don’t want to go in and be like, “Give me whatever you think.” I have friends that come in and are like, “Just order for us and pick bottles of wine and go.” That’s OK if that’s not your vibe. But when someone’s trying to talk to you about the wine, trust them. They know what they’re talking about. Trust them. They’ve studied it. They know. These are skilled workers. Trust them.
J: They are very skilled workers. And on that, we will leave. Charlotte, I love you so much.
C: I love you, Jake. Thank you so much. This was so fun.
J: Oh, my God. It was so fun. OK, I’ll see you later.
C: I’ll see you tomorrow maybe.
J: Yeah, for sure.
C: OK. Bye bye.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.